ACT Health says it will better prepare for 2020 after record flu season

Lachlan Roberts 5 September 2019 5

Between 1 January and 1 September, 3,402 flu cases were reported to the ACT Health Directorate. File photo.

The ACT Health Directorate said it will be better prepared next year after Canberra experienced one of its worst flu seasons on record, with more flu cases reported in 2019 than the last three years combined.

More than 3,400 flu cases were reported to the ACT Health Directorate during the first eight months of 2019, with ten Canberrans dying from influenza so far.

In comparison, there was only 267, 1,797, and 892 reported flu cases during the same time period in 2018, 2017 and 2016 respectively.

Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman believes the record numbers are due to an early start in the flu season and more people heading to the doctor.

“We certainly have had a higher number of reported influenza cases this year compared to 2017 and 2018, which is due to the heightened interseasonal activity and early start to the influenza season,” Dr Coleman said.

“I think as there is more discussion around the flu season and more community awareness, more people present to get tested. Often when we see high numbers it is due to more people being tested.”

Current flu cases remain high with 171 cases of flu reported in the last week, but Dr Coleman expects numbers will continue to drop as warmer weather approaches.

Despite the staggering increase, Dr Coleman said there has been a low “clinical severity” of cases this year.

“Clinical severity, which is measured by the number of patients admitted directly to ICU and deaths, is low in 2019,” Dr Coleman said. “This year, only eight per cent of hospital admissions went to intensive compared to 2017 where we had 16 per cent.”

Flu cases spiked early in 2019. Graph: ACT Health.

ACT Health said it would not have flu vaccine figures till later this year but Dr Coleman said 10,000 more doses of ACT Government-funded vaccine was distributed to immunisation providers in 2019 compared to last year.

Dr Coleman said the fact that the flu season started seven to eight weeks earlier than usual took most of Australia by surprise but said ACT Health will be better prepared next year.

“It took all of us around Australia a little bit by surprise and I’m not sure if we have any good reasons for that,” she said. “In the future, we might pull our planning back a little bit and be ready to go a little bit earlier but vaccine supply is very dependent on the vaccine manufacturers.

“Vaccines only become available at a certain time of the year and we can’t influence that. Next year, remember to take your flu shots as soon as you can.”

ACT Health Directorate says it will continue to remind people that:

  • If you are sick, stay home and remember to wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and put used tissues in the bin straight after use.
  • If you have flu-like symptoms and need medical care, you can visit your local GP or one of the ACT’s free Walk-in Centres.
  • Vaccine is still available in the ACT. It is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older and is free for people at higher risk of complications from flu.

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5 Responses to ACT Health says it will better prepare for 2020 after record flu season
Paul Evans Paul Evans 2:42 pm 06 Sep 19

I've been getting a flu shot as long as I can remember, the free shots for us oldies have been coming later and later each year. This year my shot was the latest yet.

Anthony Grice Anthony Grice 7:35 am 06 Sep 19

Let's not forget that the flu changed, once again this season and the "flu shot" would have been useless to this strain

Veronika Sain Veronika Sain 9:20 pm 05 Sep 19

Maybe it’s time for a campaign telling people to stay home when they have the flu or to wear masks so they don’t spread it.

People are the problem as they either don’t get vaccinated and/or they continue to go to work while sick and don’t care who they infect.

    Vee Tal Vee Tal 9:10 am 06 Sep 19

    Veronika Sain theres a latency period when someone’s got the virus, isn’t showing symptoms, and are infectious. Can’t stay home for that.

    Veronika Sain Veronika Sain 11:10 am 06 Sep 19

    People are most infectious while they feel sick have a sore throat or fever and are coughing, sneezing and blowing their nose. That occurs at about day two/three of contracting a “cold” (with influenza you can go from healthy to fever in 24 hours so you know very quickly you’ve caught it).

    People in Australia insist on “soldiering on” and coming to work while symptoms are at full blast. The highly infectious period lasts about five-seven days until the symptoms start to go away (more if you’ve caught a more dangerous strain of influenza).

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